An Indigenous catering initiative does much more than serve up bush food.

Story Kerry Sharp  Photo Parrtjima Festival of Light

It was a case of sink or swim when Alice Springs food lovers Rayleen Brown and Gina Smith first decided to try their inexperienced hands at catering 20 years ago. Word went out via the bush telegraph and the first order came in – for three cooked meals a day for a week for 100 Warlpiri women at a forum in remote Central Australia. 

“We were shell-shocked,” says Rayleen, a Ngangiwumirr and Eastern Arrernte woman. “But we took it on and somehow managed to fill that huge order out of a domestic kitchen. After the meeting, the old women thanked us and suggested we start a commercial cooking business.” 

The glowing endorsement convinced the mates to launch Kungkas Can Cook in 2001. “Our first formal job was to feed 1000 Indigenous dancers for four days during the Alice Springs Yeperenye Festival,” Rayleen says. “Many catering jobs followed for major events, morning teas and everything in between.”

Kungkas (Pitjantjatjara for ‘women’) uses wild plant products harvested by traditional women from their desert homelands. “By sourcing our products in this way, we are supporting livelihoods and helping sustain their important connection to country and the stories within it,” says Rayleen, who became the venture’s sole owner-operator after co-founder Gina reluctantly bowed out for family reasons. 

A typical wild harvest involves family groups working on country that has fed their people for millennia. They target the high-demand species – vitamin-rich bush tomato, wattle seed, quandong, saltbush and other traditional food sources. The harvests are seasonal. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #139

Outback Magazine: October/November 2021